Head of HR Pradeep Bhaskaran shares his organisation’s tech strategies for managing an agile and collaborative international enterprise.
By Simon Kent
In 2007, Pradeep Bhaskaran joined Cognizant to oversee HR for 10 countries around the world. Today, that number is 47. As head of HR for global growth markets, Bhaskaran is responsible for more than 60,000 associates across 52 nationalities that speak 34 languages. And those figures are only set to grow.
The central challenge for Cognizant’s HR function is one of cultural management. It is all very well to have a clear vision of how to manage employee responsibilities and performance, but making this happen in such a globally dispersed organisation requires being aware of the major challenges felt by employees at each location.
Securing and retaining talent across many locations requires specific projects and initiatives at the ground level. For example, Bhaskaran’s business works closely with government authorities to secure the right mix of local and international talent within Singapore. However, there are also broad lessons which can be applied globally to get the best from an organisation’s talent.
“Compensation alone will not make a difference,” says Bhaskaran. “Employees will not stay unless the work is good for them and challenges them. We have seen a clear change in the demand to have meaningful work, and as part of this, there has been a shift towards people wanting to move from project to project every nine months or so when you used to have people staying in one place for 18 months or more.”
In a fast-moving world and an ever-changing sector, Bhaskaran’s biggest concern is that his HR initiatives may not be relevant in 18 months’ time. He has to have an agile approach to his people; otherwise, employees are unlikely to remain sufficiently engaged to be productive or to stay with the business.
Taking on Technology
Unsurprisingly, technology and communications figure prominently in Bhaskaran’s toolkit. In the last six months, his company has invested in a cloud-based platform which links together business associates and provides them with access to learning programmes and compensation packages -the latter of which can be accessed and adjusted by the associates themselves.
Whilst ensuring these offerings are competitive is a winning strategy, delivering easy and around the clock access to such facilities is also important to keeping employees satisfied. It is imperative that resources are delivered in a way that every associate across various cultures and languages can understand, and that the message and functionality is consistent no matter where that employee is situated. “It’s very important that every associate across the globe has access to those programmes,” says Bhaskaran. “We need to make sure that an associate at every level in the company has the same access to information on the website and has that access 24/7.”
But if a company is to rely on platform-based systems to support its associates, it must also ensure that employees are motivated to log on and make use of the tools that are offered. Bhaskaran says this requires a highly responsive support system that can identify and address the needs the employees. Cognizant’s recognition programme, supported by technology, is a key element of this strategy. “It’s about recognising associates at the right time,” he explains. “It can be extremely cumbersome to do this, so we need a recognition platform where managers can discuss and recognise work with their associates and where the organisation can see that the associates have done a great job.”
At Cognizant, Bhaskaran says that the company even leverages technology to aid in the ongoing development of its employees. Thanks to the learning platform, every employee understands the strategy of the company, the direction the industry is taking, and the steps they need to take to advance. “We are trying to make sure every individual is responsible for his or her training programme and for that, we need to show how it works,” he explains. “The associate has to understand the changes they need to go through to grow in the company, so we make sure they understand what is needed from that standpoint. The other part of this is to get the leadership in place which will develop associates and provide on-the-job training when required.”
What is the goal of all of these new platforms and technologies? To create a global workforce that is collaborative, agile, and adaptable. According to Bhaskaran, today’s world of work is highly changeable and challenging, and HR leaders need to be prepared for the impact of issues such as environmental and technological change. Likewise, they need to be agile and knowledgeable to deal with the challenges of managing people as those challenges emerge and develop.
“We have communication channels in abundance,” he says. “There’s WeChat, WhatsApp, and instant messaging, but you must not forget the community. That is very important. Today, as individuals, we do not have the solution to the massive problems we’re facing, so you have adopt a collaborative approach. Collectively, we can make a difference and if we collaborate, we can be creative and innovative. In that way, we can find the solutions whenever problems occur.”